Some workers at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention may have been accidentally exposed to dangerous anthrax bacteria earlier this month because of a safety problem at some of its labs in Atlanta, the federal agency said Thursday.
CDC officials say the risk of infection seems very low, but that about 75 staff members were being monitored or given antibiotics as a precaution.
“Based on the investigation to date, CDC believes that other CDC staff, family members, and the general public are not at risk of exposure and do not need to take any protective action,” a statement from the agency says.
The problem was discovered last Friday, and some of the anthrax may have become airborne in two labs the previous week, the statement says.
The safety lapse occurred when a high level biosecurity lab was preparing anthrax samples. The samples were to be used at lower security labs researching new ways to detect the germs in environmental samples. The higher security lab used a procedure that did not completely inactivate the bacteria.
Workers in three labs who later came into contact with these potentially infectious samples were not wearing adequate protective gear because they believed the samples had been inactivated. Procedures in two of the labs may have aerosolized anthrax spores.
Live bacteria were discovered last Friday on materials gathered for disposal.
Labs and halls have been tested and decontaminated and will reopen “when safe to operate,” the CDC statement says. Because proper procedures were not followed, the agency said workers will be disciplined.
Anthrax created fear in 2001, when five people died and 17 others were sickened from letters containing anthrax spores sent through the mail. The FBI blames the attacks on a lone government scientist, Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide.